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Speech Therapy 101: What is Speech Therapy, and What Do Speech Therapists Treat?

Let’s start off by defining speech therapy. To put it simply, speech therapy helps people improve their communication abilities. It can benefit people of all ages, from very young toddlers to older adults.

Speech therapy may address something as specific as improving a lisp, to something as expansive as re-learning how to speak after a stroke. It all depends what conditions and related complications are present for the person receiving therapy. But no matter what, the goal is to enable people to express their needs and share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions with the world. Every person deserves to be heard, and speech therapists are here to help make that happen.

Let’s talk generally about the conditions that speech therapy treats. There are many areas of communication that can be addressed by a speech-language pathologist, commonly known as a speech therapist. Speech therapy treats issues surrounding speech, language, voice, and cognition, as well as oral-motor and swallowing abilities. 

Speech refers to the ability to physically produce sounds. A child may come to therapy because of a speech delay, such as having problems saying sounds like /r/, /l/, or “TH.”

Speech issues can persist into adulthood if not treated during childhood. These might be lisps or other speech sound errors. 

Adults and children may also receive speech therapy to help with speech problems related neurological diagnoses, such as stuttering or apraxia of speech.

Issues with language means that a person has trouble communicating the message they want to say. These are generally broken out into two categories: receptive language disorders and expressive language disorders. A receptive language disorder refers to problems understanding spoken language. An expressive language disorder refers to issues communicating thoughts and ideas.

Another type of condition that speech therapists treat is voice disorders. This refers to problems with the quality, volume, or pitch of a person’s voice. Voice problems such as dysarthria, dysphonia, vocal fold issues, or polyps can cause many issues with how your voice sounds and feels. 

Gender-affirming voice training is another area of speech therapy. Speech therapists can help a person attain a voice that truly fits and aligns with their authentic self-identity.

Many people don’t realize that speech therapists treat problems related to cognition. When someone has a stroke or traumatic brain injury, their communication and executive functioning abilities can be impacted. Speech therapy can help them with daily tasks such as learning to read a calendar again, performing problem-solving and reasoning tasks, and improving memory.

Speech therapists also help people who have feeding and swallowing difficulties. Therapists can make food and liquid recommendations if a person is having trouble swallowing safely. They can also help people learn to tolerate new textures and types of food if they’re aversive to certain foods.

We’ve talked a lot about what speech therapy treats, but what about the person providing it–the speech therapist? 

Speech-language pathologists, commonly referred to as speech therapists, are experts in human communication, its development, and related disorders. As we’ve discussed, they assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of speech and language disorders, cognitive-communication issues, and oral, swallowing, and feeding issues. 

All certified speech-language pathologists have at least a master’s degree and are licensed in each of the states they practice. They are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and are required to pass a national exam and complete a supervised clinical fellowship.

You can also view a speech therapist as something of a coach. Think of how an athletic coach helps their players improve in their sport–that’s exactly what a speech therapist does! They provide unique treatment plans, techniques, and support to teach people the skills they need to communicate as clearly as possible.

If you have questions or need guidance related to a communication problem, know that you are not alone. There are many qualified professionals ready to help you–it’s what we speech therapists have dedicated our lives to. Everyone deserves the gift of being a confident communicator, and a trained speech therapist can help you become just that.

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